UK attitude towards ocean mining revealed in landmark survey

The first poll asking the British public what they think about divisive plans to extract minerals from deep sea areas speaks volumes about awareness.   

This month, the International Sea Bed Authority (ISA) is set to meet and outline regulations that will be used to police a deep sea mining industry that has been proposed to help make stockpiles of minerals crucial to many technologies, including low-carbon, more readily available. 

Seascape of the ocean foam

Ahead of the event, which runs from 21st March to 1st April, social research experts ICM Unlimited has conducted the only existing survey on how UK citizens feel about the idea of extracting valuable materials such as nickel and cobalt from the bottom of the ocean. A process that threatens to cause major disruption, disturbance and damage to fragile ecosystems already under pressure from climate change, plastic pollution, and other human-made problems.

2,072 respondents engage with the study, which revealed that just 8% were in favour of activating the industry, with 73% suggesting they would support a moratorium on the sector until more is known about its impact. Just 50% of those involved were aware of deep sea mining as a practice, and 45% reported understanding that minerals, and therefore the extraction process, are needed for things like solar panels and electric vehicle batteries.

The last time the ISA met a number of countries also expressed concerns about the potential environmental effect of deep sea mining, with some scientists, companies, and organisations calling for an outright ban or temporary pause on developments. Clear risks of contaminating fish stocks, and therefore the food chain, have also been highlighted, along with gaps in our knowledge of life at the bottom of the ocean.  

Many have pointed to technological advancements in battery chemistry and recycling as evidence that deep sea mining may not be needed at all in the near future. Already, manufacturers including Renault, Volkswagen, and Volvo have pledged to run electric cars on batteries that do not require deep sea minerals. Some Tesla cars already use iron phosphate batteries, which are far less reliant on these resources.

In contrast, the UK government has actively encouraged nations to engage in negotiations and adopt mining regulations by 2023, with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy supporting companies lobbying for rights to explore the potential of mineral-rich polymetallic nodules in the Pacific sea bed.  

‘Motion 69 at the IUCN World Conservation Congress last year overwhelmingly rejected deep-sea mining as a concept, with a huge majority of governments, government agencies and civil society voting in favour of a moratorium,’ said Dan Crockett, Development Director, Blue Marine Foundation. ‘The ISA secretariat and indeed our own U.K. government departments need to stop buying the false narratives pushed by the nascent industry and recognise this very clear mandate from the world.’

In related news, last year researchers demonstrated how ‘green mining’ – extracting minerals from volcanoes – could play a significant role in plans for a sustainable future. 

Image credit: Ross Sokolovski


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